Saturday, March 23, 2019

A Weekend Detour that Hit Home

Every year, I make sure to attend one special conference in Houston. It is a small event for whom only a few—well, especially in comparison to blow-out events like RootsTech—gather. To become part of this gathering, one first needs to serve as a volunteer project administrator for the various citizen-scientist pursuits of genetic genealogy—there are now over ten thousand of them—hosted under the auspices of Family Tree DNA. Upon achieving such a role, then one must be sure to sit at the computer, ready for the split second that registration for the conference opens. This is an event that fills up its limited space quickly.

I look forward to attending this FTDNA project administrator's conference every year. There are always fascinating speakers, and the smaller venue allows for great networking as well as opportunities to speak with others working on similar goals. Just last night, for instance, I had the opportunity to talk with Dana Leeds, originator of the color clustering method to sort DNA matches, now generally referred to as the Leeds Method. Just in time for the DNA class I will be teaching next month for a local organization, she mentioned to me that a genealogist in New Zealand—Fiona Brooker of Memories in Time—had introduced a paper version of Dana's spreadsheet-based method, which I believe my class will find a more comfortable match to their learning style.

Ever since my Southern Research Techniques class at SLIG last January, as you know, I have been engrossed with the research project of finding the biography—and, thus, the life details—of a former slave on the McClellan plantation of my third great-grandfather. But this weekend, I figured I would be setting aside my work on that goal to focus on a different subject: that of genetic genealogy.

As it turns out, that may not be entirely so; one of the featured speakers at today's event will be Kenyatta Berry, expert on researching African roots, keynote speaker at RootsTech 2017, who is mostly known for her work on the PBS program, Genealogy Roadshow.

It is one thing to hear Kenyatta at RootsTech, jostling the crowds with tens of thousands of other participants. It is quite a different experience to walk into a pre-conference reception and realize the comparative increase in accessibility in the more intimate venue of a gathering numbering only two hundred people. I'd love to have a chance to run King Stockton's story by her, and benefit from her take on historical pressures which may be keeping me from locating any of the usual records researchers are accustomed to locating in pursuit of their family's roots.

This afternoon, Kenyatta will be discussing "My DNA Journey: African and European Roots." Perhaps her story will be similar to the one I heard at SLIG last January, when LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson revealed her cross-racial DNA discovery in her presentation at the Monday night colloquiam—the presentation which encouraged me to delve into the story of King Stockton.

There may still be some in the genealogical world who believe there are two camps in family history: those who trust the paper trail, and those who see value in the DNA record. Sometimes, listening to discussion, one could come away thinking there is an either/or dichotomy, as if it is simply adequate to solely research familial ties based on what can be found documented in records. There is more than meets the eye, however—which, in the case of King Stockton, his "mulatto" mother Hester, and their descendants, is obviously true—and such cases may never find a written record of what happened in those people's history. The tools of genetic genealogy, while perhaps not providing a complete answer, can at least lead the way to possible alternative explanations, ones that might not otherwise have been considered.   


  1. Oh, this is going to be so interesting. How lucky to have her as a presenter!

    1. Yes, how true, Miss Merry. I got a chance to talk with Kenyatta today about the King Stockton story, and she provided some ideas for resources. And she will be teaching a break out session on African American research tomorrow afternoon, so you know where I'll be then!

  2. Your discussion of paper vs digital is really interesting. My father did "paper" before home computers existed, by combing through records in SC courthouses, libraries, etc. Now, I am unable to do that, and rely on digital records. Whenever I hit a difference between what is on websites vs what he gathered, he always turns out to have been right. But the digital records go back much further than he ever did. So I keep looking, and wondering.

    1. Paper files and digital records seem to have an uneasy partnership at times, don't they? But they are both really just tools in our quest to research our family history. Some digital records--paper preserved in computer-readable form--will eventually enable us to see records which, in paper form, will long since have crumbled, so I'm grateful for that resource. Not so much for online indexes of what someone has seen on paper. But they are all tools, and the more of them which become accessible, the more we can accomplish in our research.


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